Psalm 42 begins with the familiar refrain, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). This desperate desire for God stems from the depth of his internal pain which feels as if it was a physical wound, his days are filled with tears, his soul is cast down, and he longs to appear before the living God who is his salvation (Psalm 42:2-3, 10-11). Put simply, the psalmist’s pain stirs in him a longing for a new beginning, one which only God can bring.
In the seemingly never-ending night of suffering, the promised morning can feel like a distant dream. The Psalmist’s darkened and tear-filled days stand in sharp contrast to his memory of worshiping in the house of God, singing songs of praise and keeping festivals (Psalm 42:5). In the memory of the abundance of a time past, he sings his refrain:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5)
As the Psalmist meditates on who God is, his blessed memories and afflicted present start to converge as he is able to see that his days are imbued with the presence of God, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
Yet this shift of perspective doesn’t eliminate his pain and fear as he calls out to God crying “Why have you forgotten me?” (Psalm 42:9). He feels his pain in his bones, as those around him taunt him asking, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10). But at this question, he again sings his refrain:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:11)
The refrain of the Psalmist is perhaps a kind of new beginning even though his suffering has remained. As he calls his soul to hope and see the promised future as a certainty despite evidence to the contrary, he begins to see, if only glimpses of, that promised day of peace.
When pain or despair overtakes my heart and my soul is cast down, I return to this psalm. In taking up the refrain of the Psalmist, I practice singing a truer song than my exhausted song of fear, and I turn my eyes to the promised morning which will mark a new beginning. The days and nights which are filled with tears begin to become the times when I see his steadfast love during the day and hear his song over me in the night (Psalm 42:8).
For Christians, our promised new beginning has already begun, despite the darkened woods of sin, grief and pain. Christ entered into our frail estate and fulfilled the words of Zechariah,
“the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79)
Although “we do not yet see everything in subjection to him,” we can hope in God for in Christ he has already and will forever be our salvation (Hebrews 2:8).